senator

State Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, spoke with members of the Shires Housing Coalition at Loose Cannon Cafe in Bennington last fall.

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State Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale entered the increasingly crowded race for Congress on Thursday, saying her legislative experience shows she’s someone who has “dreamed big and delivered” and “does not walk away until the job is done.”

Ram Hinsdale, a Democrat representing Chittenden County, joins state Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and Lt. Governor Molly Gray in the Democratic primary race to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. Welch is vacating the seat to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who will retire this year.

“I’m running for Congress because Vermont needs a fighter for working families, our democracy and our climate,” Ram Hinsdale said in an interview Thursday morning.

Ram Hinsdale said she will “bring the Vermont way to Washington,” embracing pragmatic, solution-based government while holding fast to her principles. She said she would fight for Vermont families and businesses.

“We can work together despite our differences, but people know where I stand,” she said. “I’m a practical, pragmatic progressive. But I will work with anyone to get things done.”

Asked for examples of where she “dreamed big and delivered,” Ram Hinsdale pointed to her efforts to promote a “green new deal” economic response to climate change, and bar the expulsion of young school children.

“All the candidates say Green New Deal is something they support. I’m someone who’s been working to advance it since 2008, before it had a name,” Ram Hinsdale said. “I got into politics to speak for a lot of people who have been left behind — mobile home residents, migrant farm workers. We’ve built a coalition to make that a must-pass bill this session.”

Asked why voters should choose her in a crowded field, Ram Hinsdale pointed to her experience in the Legislature — four terms representing the Chittenden 6-4 district in the House from 2009-16, and her current term in the Senate — and her personal understanding of what small business owners go through. And when it comes to experience, Ram Hinsdale said she has as much legislative experience as Gray and Balint combined.

”I dig in with folks and hear their individual needs and concerns, and work to help small businesses,” she said. “I grew up in a family business. I have a business of my own. I married into a family business. I get the realities of how Vermonters are digging in — not threatening to leave but staying and fighting and making sure this state is sustainable and affordable.”

Ram Hinsdale was born in Los Angeles, where her Indian immigrant father and Jewish mother ran an Irish pub. The business failed, her parents marriage ended, and her father struggled to maintain economic security, she said.

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“He believed in a hard day’s work and he died holding a catering tray at a Silicon Valley gala,” Ram Hinsdale said of her father’s 2015 death. “It’s been very painful to start to tell that story but Vermonters deserve to know supporting working families is deeply personal for me.”

Ram Hinsdale came to Vermont as a student at the University of Vermont in Burlington, graduating magna cum laude in 2008.

After serving four terms in the Vermont House, she ran for lieutenant governor in 2016, finishing third in the Democratic primary. She earned a masters of public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2018 and won a state Senate seat in 2020.

She married Jacob Hinsdale in 2020. The couple live in Shelburne.

If elected, Ram Hinsdale would be the first woman and the first person of color to represent Vermont in Congress.

“I am proud of who I am, but that’s not all of who I am,” she said. “Most of all I’m proud to be a Vermonter, and proud of the work I’ve done in the Legislature. That’s what I hope people will judge me by.”

Ram Hinsdale was planning a formal announcement in Winooski on Thursday afternoon and a virtual kickoff event in the evening.

While she’s the third woman to jump into the Democratic primary — Gray and Balint announced in December — Ram Hinsdale does not feel like she’s behind in the race, or the accompanying challenge of raising funds. She has pledged not to accept corporate political action committee (PAC) dollars.

”Resources should be a tool and not the sole focus,” she said of fundraising. That said, she added, “I believe there is power in fundraising. We’re seeing people dig deep — working moms, retirees, people working all kind of jobs. From the conversations I’ve had, I believe we’ll demonstrate we’re not behind at all.”

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.